House Strongly Endorses Medical Malpractice Bill

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(Host) The Vermont House gave its strong approval Friday to legislation that is designed to make doctors more accountable to the public. The bill places the state’s Medical Practice Board under the jurisdiction of the Vermont Health Department and it adds more public members to the Board.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) By a vote of 139 to 1, the Vermont House on Friday gave its approval to a bill that makes basic changes in the way that doctors are regulated in the state and the proposal will give consumers more information about doctors. Currently, the state’s Medical Practice Board operates as an independent entity; it is the only regulated profession to have this autonomy.

This legislation shifts responsibility for the Board to the state Health Department, it adds three new public members to the Board and it makes it easier to charge a doctor with professional misconduct. Hyde Park Representative Stephanie Bourdeau says the legislation makes some important changes concerning the oversight of doctors:

(Bourdeau) "What we present to you drastically changes many aspects of how the Board presently functions. But the Office of Professional Regulation, the Department of Health and your Government Operations Committee feel that this bill will bring closure to the problems of the past and allow them to go forward to make a bill that the public will feel confident has their best interests at heart. A Board that bad physicians should fear and good doctors need not worry."

(Kinzel) Bourdeau says a key part of the bill changes the definition of professional misconduct. Previously it took repeated charges of misconduct to trigger this provision of the law. The new bill lowers the threshold to one example:

(Bourdeau) "So instead of disciplining the doctor who did something pretty horrendous on a first occasion, the Board found themselves in the unenviable position of having to wait until that doctor showed a repeated pattern of misconduct. Or again, in laymen’s terms, they had to wait until more patients were harmed before they could legally step in."

(Kinzel) The measure is expected to come up for final approval in the House on Tuesday.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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